People fleeing the war in Ukraine, mainly women and children, are extremely vulnerable to an increased risk of sexual and labour exploitation, a new report commissioned by the Freedom Fund has said.
Sounding the alarm on Ukraine trafficking risks, the report urges swift action from European authorities and donors – and it also concludes that the risks of trafficking and exploitation are likely to increase as the war continues, as more livelihoods become more precarious for people both in Ukraine and those who have left.
The report makes a series of recommendations to national governments, international organisations, and donors to invest in and promote:
- Training and building the capacity of border police, volunteers, and other frontline responders at borders and in reception centres on how to identify trafficking
- The registration of refugees to ensure swift access to protection measures and remove barriers for those without legal documentation
- The provision of adequate information about risks of exploitation and abuse in Ukrainian and Russian as a minimum, as well as other languages
- Systems to register and vet staff, volunteers, and legal bodies which offer assistance, housing, transport and other services to ensure appropriate oversight
- Mandatory checks of accommodation that it is suitable and safe and to introduce processes to check in regularly with refugees after they are housed
- The provision of immediate psychosocial and trauma care in Ukraine and in neighbouring countries for displaced people and refugees
- Official websites that promote verified job opportunities for refugees with support of trade unions and civil society organisations to reduce risks of labour exploitation.
Dan Vexler, managing director of programs at the Freedom Fund, said: ‘Conflict and disasters worldwide have long been connected with human trafficking. Profiteers – including organised criminal groups and individuals – take advantage of the turmoil and despair that follows as people become increasingly vulnerable. We have seen this following the 2015 earthquake in Nepal, in Syria and amongst the Rohingya people from Myanmar. Inevitably we are now seeing this happening in Europe as a result of war in Ukraine.’
More than 12 million people are believed to have fled their homes in Ukraine since the conflict began, according to the United Nations, making it Europe’s biggest refugee crisis since World War II. Over 5.7 million have left the country, and another 6.5 million people have been displaced within Ukraine.